Marketing Automation is More Than a Fancy Email Machine

Marketing automation is one of those terms that could have a variety of meanings, but the most obvious one is not really what it means. The tool that is called a marketing automation platform is not strictly about automating your marketing.

These systems allow marketers to automate many marketing tasks that would be mind-numbing and repetitive, even for interns, like sending emails and tracking the results, but there’s a whole lot more going on here than just sending email.

Let’s look at some stats from a recent study from Ascend2:

  • 76% of marketers say marketing automation is very important to their marketing performance.
  • 36% of marketers make extensive use of marketing automation, while another 35% make limited use of marketing automation.
  • 32% of marketers say that they have been very successful at achieving their goals with marketing automation, while 59% say that they have been somewhat successful.
  • And finally, 52% of marketers say that their biggest challenge to success with marketing automation is a lack of strategy.

The sum total of those stats tells quite a story. Let's walk through it step-by-step.

According to this survey, about three-quarters of marketers say that this particular tool is important to their marketing performance, yet only about a third of them make extensive use of it. The first and most obvious question here would be why don't more of them use it if it is so important? Let's just set that question aside as what could be a rhetorical one.

And presumably, that same group, about a third of marketers surveyed, making extensive use of marketing automation makes up the bulk of the similar sized group that is having success with their tool. This makes good sense. If you are using marketing automation extensively, you will have success. No logical backflips on this one.

Now let's go back to the third of marketers who make limited use of their marketing automation. These are people who are likely just using their marketing automation platform as a fancy email machine. And these marketers are certainly the biggest part of those who are only somewhat successful in reaching their goals.

There are plenty of plain email tools that can track basic email metrics like opens, clicks, bounces, but marketing automation can do so much more. Email is just one component of the system. Not only can you track email activity, but you see when your contacts interact with your blog, website, and other content. You can build landing pages and track when they download longer-form content like ebooks and white papers.

You can create lead scoring models that determine if you're reaching the right prospects, by qualifying them according to all this activity. You can build nurture campaigns that use a prospect's activity as both triggers and filters for your next action. You can layer on external data to better understand prospects. And depending on what systems you use, marketing automation is often part of a larger technology ecosystem.

The final stat to review is that more than half of the marketers surveyed who say their biggest challenge achieving success in marketing automation is the lack of a strategy. That means they really don't know what they are doing with this tool. There are two primary ways a marketer gets here. Either they inherited the system from another team, previous employee, or overzealous boss and they just don't know the details of what is possible; or they understand the basics of marketing automation and they just haven't had the time to figure our how best to use it.

With that in mind, here are some marketing automation tips to get more out your system than just sending email:

  1. Meet with your sales team to understand what prospects are most likely to become customers.
  2. Identify existing content assets that will resonate with those prospects and build landing pages for them.
  3. Create nurture campaigns pointing to the content assets and with activity-based logic for next steps.
  4. Establish a basic lead scoring model to qualify prospects.
  5. Explore external data sources that can be added to your system to better qualify your prospects.

These are some basic tasks that can really ramp up the effectiveness of your current marketing automation platform.

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